• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online

Title

Faking It

Acting excited about your degree, even when you aren't always feeling it.

May 31, 2018
 
 

Patrick Bigsby is an alumnus, former employee, and lifelong wrestling fan of the University of Iowa. Sometimes, he tweets.

I’m in the process of re-watching Seinfeld in its entirety, pilot-to-finale. The show is remarkable in many ways (for a complete show-biz history, I recommend the book Seinfeldia), but its focus on fundamental and even mundane human interactions means the jokes hold up more than 20 years later.

In Season 5, Episode 1, “The Mango,” Elaine reveals to Jerry that she had been ‘faking it’ for the whole of their romantic relationship. Jerry, ego bruised, is taken aback. Elaine revels in the knowledge that he never caught on and admires the depth of her performance. George orders extra dessert.

Throughout the episode, Elaine is both lauded for her convincing showmanship and accused, bitterly, of deceit. Jerry believes that Elaine’s conduct is somehow inherently unprincipled. However, as Elaine’s coworker points out, sometimes faking passion is merely a matter of course if, for example, you’ve got really good Broadway seats.

This lesson resonated with my inner GradHacker. Graduate school is a relationship between you and a single discipline—and quite a one-sided one, at that. Your field demands years of physical, emotional, and financial commitment without a hint of reciprocity, frequently to the exclusion of other pursuits, and still may cruelly decide to reward another scholarly suitor with the academic analogue of a marriage proposal: a tenure-track job. In the face of this, can any grad student really be expected NOT to fake their passion once in a while? I say: no. Faking it is essential to the health of your relationship with your degree program. It’s impossible and unrealistic to expect to maintain constant, all-consuming excitement about and positivity toward your field every day. As previous GradHackers have written, this ebb and flow is human and faking it occasionally is simple self-care.

I also believe faking it can be part of your daily academic routine. I care about and am interested in the subjects I studied in graduate school. They are perfectly nice things to study, if you’re going to be studying something. But I don’t care about them the way I care about, say, finding a really good babka. So, I faked it. A lot. I smiled and nodded when the faculty implored us to recognize that our work was a calling, helping to advance some kind of greater good. During my classmates’ research presentations, I made sure to cobble together a question that could prove I had been listening before I zoned out and began trying to decide what animal everyone in the room most resembled.

Elaine faked it with Jerry to spare his feelings (a rather selfless act, frankly) but also because she enjoyed and wanted to maintain the tangible benefits of the relationship (e.g., really good Broadway seats). I too enjoyed many tangible benefits in my relationship with my degree programs: fun assistantships, flexible schedules, meeting interesting people, etc. Pretending to be really excited about the state of my field and the scholarship therein was a small price to pay for those positive side effects. Elaine is truly the Meryl Streep of faking it, but I count myself among her disciples. What follows is my advice for anyone looking to fake it convincingly, whether for a day or a semester.

1. Determine the currency of your field and deploy it strategically. My former classmate Marielle Wakim, a brilliant writer for whom I do not need to fake my admiration, explained this principle masterfully in her own guide to fakery. Marielle, as an undergrad, recognized that her English literature professors valued two markers of student passion in particular: utilizing a big vocabulary and the ability to free-associate. Consequently, she used those techniques whenever she needed to demonstrate her supposed interest in her chosen subject. Faking it in grad school requires a similarly authentic approach: what would someone who truly loves [your field here] say?

2. Share and admire others’ love for the discipline. Just because you’re faking it at any given moment doesn’t mean everyone is. Chances are at least some of your peers have real passion for their area of study, which can carry you through your own doldrums. You can crib their earnest excitement as source material for your own performance or even use it to get reignite your own academic inspiration, sort of like Kramer did for Elaine’s search for a new apartment.

3. Find an outlet for your actual passion. If you are lucky enough to love whatever you’re studying, then by all means pour your heart into it! But, for us fakers, it’s important to have a raison d’etre outside of school (peruse GradHacker if you’re looking for ideas). Constantly faking interest in your field can be draining and leave you with a deeply unsatisfying life if you’re not legitimately invested in something beyond the library or laboratory walls. Even when Elaine was feigning fulfillment in her relationship with Jerry, she had a satisfying career, many supportive friendships, and, of course, a very real joie de vivre.

What do you do when you’re just not feeling that passion for your field of study? Do you fake it till you make it, or is it a real love story? Let us know in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user Asim Bharwani and used under a Creative Commons license.]

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